and Its Relation to Art
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and Its Relation to Art
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AND ITS RELATION TO ART
Books on the Far East often mention a sect of Buddhism
called Zen. They say that it was a ' ' school of abstract medi-
tation ' ' and that it exercised a profomid influence upon art
and literature ; but they tell us very little about what Zen
actually was, about its relation to ordinary Buddhism, its
history, t>r the exact nature of its influence upon the arts.
The reason of this is that very little of the native literature
which deals with Zen has yet been translated, perhaps because
it is written in early Chinese colloquial, a language the study
of which has been almost wholly neglected by Europeans and
also (to judge by some of their attempts to translate it) by the
The present paper makes no attempt at profundity, but it
is based on the study of original texts and fuirjifShes, -I hope,
some information not hitherto accessible. ,
'7" !6efore describing the origins of Zen itself I must give some
^general account of Buddhism. At the time when it reached
China-^ there were two kinds of Buddhism, called the Lesser
Vehicle and the Greater. The former. Primitive Buddhism,
possessed scriptures Which in part at any rate were genuine ;
that is to say, they recorded words actually used by Shakya-
muni. The ordinary adherent of this religion did not hope to
become a Buddha ; Buddhas indeed were regarded as extremely
rare. He only aspired to become an Arhat, that is "an ascetic
ripe for annihilation," one who is about to escape frt)m the
wheel of reincarnation — whose present incarnation is an ante-
chamber to Nirvana. To such aspirants the Buddha gives no
assistance; he is what children in their games call "home,"
and his followers must pant after him as best they can.
Those who found this religion too comfortless invented
another, which became known as Mahayana, the Greater
Vehicle. Putting their doctrines into the mouth of Shakya-
(1) First century a.d.
muni, they fabricated ad hoc sermons of enormous length,
preached (so they asserted) by the Buddha himself in his
' ' second period ' ' to those who were ripe to receive the whole
The great feature of this new Buddhism was the interven-
tion of the merciful HodhisattY as,, illuminati who, though fit
for Buddhahood, voluntarily renounced it in order to help
The first Buddhist books to reach China emanated from
the Lesser Vehicle. But the Greater Vehicle or Bodhisattva-
Buddhism soon prevailed, and by the sixth century A.D. over
two thousand works, most of them belonging to the Greater
Vehicle, had been translated into Chinese.
There were already many sects in China, the chief of which
(1) The Amidists.
This was" the form of Buddhism which appealed to the
)ined:iicated. • It taught that a Buddha named Amida pre-
sides over the Western Paradise, where he will receive the
souls of those that worship him. The conception of this
Paradise closely resembles the Christian idea of Heaven and
may have been derived from it.
(2) The Tendai Sect, founded at the end of the sixth
century. Its teaching was based on a scripture of enormous
length called the Saddharnia Pundartka Sutra, which is
translated by Kern in the Sacred Books of the East. It was
perhaps the broadest and most representative sect. It laid
great stress on the ethical side of Buddhism.
We now come to Zen.
In the year 520 a.d. there arrived at Canton a missionary
from Southern India. His name was Bodhidharma and he
appears to have been the younger son of an Indian Prince.
The reigning Emperor of China was a munificent patron of
Buddhism. He had built monasteries, given alms, distributed
scriptures, defended the faith. Hearing that a Buddhist prince
had arrived from India he summoned him at once to his
Capital. The following conversation took place in the Palace
at Nanking :
Emperor : You will be interested to hear that I have built
many monasteries, distributed scriptures, given
alms, and upheld the Faith. Have I not indeed
Bodhidharma : None at all.
Emperor: In what then does true merit consist?
Bodhidharma : In the obliteration of Matter through Abso-
lute Knowledge, not by external acts.
Emperor: Which is the Divine and Primal Aspect of
Bodhidharma : Eeality has no aspect that is divine.
Emperor: What are you, who have come before my
Bodhidharma : I do not know.
The Emperor could make nothing of him. Monasticism,
a huge vested interest, decried him, and after a short stay in
Nanking he started northward, towards the Capital of the Wei
Tartars, who then ruled over a large jDart of China. The Wei
Emperor, like his Chinese confrere, was also a great patron of
Buddhism, and he, too, desired an interview with the Indian
priest. But Bodhidharma had done with Emperors, and
settled in a small country temple, where he lived till his deatli
nine years later. Some say that he tried to visit the Capital
of the Weis, but was prevented by the intrigues of the monks
He left behind him a few short tractates, the substance of
which is as follows :
There is no such person as Buddha. Buddha is simply a
Sanskrit word meaning " initiate." The Absolute is imma-
nent in every man's heart. This "treasure of the heart"
is the only Buddha that exists. It is no use seeking Buddha
outside your own nature. Prayer, scripture-reading, fasting,
the observance of monastic rules — all. are useless. Those
who seek Buddha do not find him You may know by heart
all the Sutras of the twelve divisions, and yet be unable to
escape from the W^heel of Life and Death. One thing alono
avails — to discover the unreality of the World by contemplat-
ing the Absolute v^hich is at the root of one's bwn nature.
Some one asked him : ' ' Why may we not worship the
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? " He answered :
Ogres and hobgoblins can at will assume the outward
form of Bodhisattvas ; such are heretical and not of the true
Buddha. There is no Buddha but your own thoughts.
Buddha is the Way. The Way is Zen. This word Zen
cannot be understood even of the wise. Zen means ' for a
man to behold his fundamental nature.' "^
The highest truths cannot be written down or taught by
speech. A man who cannot write a word, can yet con-
template his own heart and become wise. Knowledge of
1,000 Sutras and 10,000 Shastras cannot help him to realise
the Absolute within him.
He was asked : ' ' Can a layman with wife and children,
one given over to the lusts of the flesh, achieve Buddhahood? "
He answered :
' ' Provided he contemplate his own inner-nature, he will
achieve Buddhahood. It does not matter about his lusts.
Even a butcher can achieve Buddhahood, if he searches in
his own heart."
" What," cried his listeners, " a butcher, who lives by tak-
in;^ life, and he achieve Buddhahood? " The master replied :
"It is not a question of the man's trade. If he has
learnt to know his own nature he will be saved.
' ' I have come from India only to teach you that Buddha
is Thought. I care nothing for monastic rules or ascetic
practices. As for walking on water or through fire, climb-
ing sword-wheels, fasting, sitting upright for hours without
rest — all such practices are heretical ; they belong to the
World of Being.
"Thought, Thought, Thought! It is hard to seek.
Expanding, it covers the whole world ; shrinking, it is too
small to lodge a pin.
' ' I seek the heart ; I do not seek Buddha. For I have
(1) Zen (Sanskrit: dhyana) means literally "contemplation."
learnt to know that the outer world is empty and unten-
Such was the teaching of Bodhidharma. It was Vedantic^
rather than Buddhist. The terms "thought," "Buddha,"
etc., used by Bodhidharma correspond exactly to the brahman
of the Upanishads. Mystic contemplation or yoga had been
used by the Brahmins and was not unknown to the early
Buddhists. But Bodhidharma was the first to insist upon it
as the sole means of salvation.
Yet though his whole teaching turned on this ' ' medita-
tion " or " Zen," he left behind him no exact directions for the
practice of it. Having shown the end, he left it to each indi-
vidual to find his own means. Kules, dogmas and definitions
were precisely what he set out to destroy.
Less than a hundred years after his death another Indian,
Buddhapriya, came to China and there defined with exactitude
and blunt materiality the various forms of meditation.
The transition from the spirituality of Bodhidharma to the
grossness of his follower is, however, typical of religious
history. The poetry of Christ turns into the theology of
Paul ; the hovel of Saint Francis into the mansion of Brother
He first describes the different attitudes in w^hich Zen may
be practised, with an exact account of the correct position for
hands, feet, head, etc. The normal attitude of meditation,
cross-legged, with upright back and hands locked over the
knees is familiar to every one.
Zen could also be practised while walking and, in cases of
sickness, w^hile lying down. Buddhapriya's instructions are
in the form of question and answer.
Question. — How does the Zen practised by heretics and
by the other schools of Buddhism differ from our
Answer. — The Zen of the heretics is not impersonal. The
Zen of the Lesser Vehicle is material. The Zen
(2) Dr. McGovern tells me that Zen would seem to be more immediately
derived from the Nihilistic School of Nagarjuna (ist century a.d.).
of the Greater Vehicle only abstracts man and
Questio7i.—Ho-w ought one to set about practising Zen?
Answer.—First put far away fit)m you all anger and malice,
and fill your heart with kindness and compassion!
Question. —Gun the beginner at once proceed to the con-
templation of non-Being?
Answer.~By no means ! He must by stratagems gradually
enter in. I have never yet seen one who straight-
way achieved the vision of non-Keality. If for
example he were meditating in this room he must
first banish from his mind every part of the world
except the city of Ch'ang-an. Next every building
in the city except this monastery. Next, every
room in the monastery except this cell, every object
but himself, every part of himself except the end
of his nose. Finally the end of his nose hangs in
space like a drop of dew and on this nose-end he
concentrates his mind.
This is only a preliminary exercise. There are
others of the same kind. For example — persuade
yourself that your navel is a minute rivulet running
through the sands. When this conception is firmly
achieved, you will see a bright light and ultimately,
the body growing transparent, you will behold the
working of your bowels.
Or again, regard your head as the top of a
hollow pipe which runs straight down through your
body into the earth. Meditate upon the top of
your head, that is to say, upon the mouth of the
drain-pipe, and then gradually ascend in your
thoughts to a height of four inches above the head,
and concentrate firmly on this conception. You
will thus easily pass into the contemplation of non-
Being, having performed the transition from ele-
mentary to complete Zen as comfortably as a work-
man climbs the rungs of a ladder.
Question. — Are there any signs whereby I may know that
I have attained to Samadhi?^
Answer. — To be sure there are. Sometimes you will feel
a sensation as of bugs or ants creeping over your
skin ; or again, it will appear to you that a cloud
or mass of white cotton-wool is rising immedi-
ately behind your back. In neither case must you
be discomposed or put out your hand. Sometimes
it will seem as though oil were dripping down from
your head and face ; sometimes a light will shine
from out of the ground you are sitting upon.
These are all preliminary signs.
Sometimes when you have been sitting for a
long while and your back is aching, you will sud-
denly hear a sound of rapping with the fingers or a
noise as of some one bumping against the door.
Do not be disquieted. These are the Good Spirits
of Heaven, come to warn you against sleep.
Again, it may happen that you have an agree-
able sense of lightness and floating ; this is a good
sign. Beware, however, of a painful sense of
lightness ; for this may merely indicate flatulence.
Patches of heat on the body are a sign of Fiery
Samadhi. A light filling the whole room is a pre-
monitory sign of Zen ; to smell strange fragrances
not known on earth is a sign of whole and utter
Such and many more are the signs of Zen.
The practicant must not heed them ; for if by them
he be encouraged or dismayed, all his work will be
Question. — Can Zen be practised in a Buddha Shrine?
Answer. — No, indeed ! Zen should be practised in a quiet
room or under a tree or among tombs or sitting on
the dewy earth.
Question. — Can Zen be practised by many sitting together?
Answer. — To be sure it may ; but each must face his neigh-
bour's back. They must not sit face to face. When
there are many sitting together at night, a lamp or
candle may be lit ; but when there are few together,
it ought not to be used.
Question. — Need I wear monastic vestments at my
Answer. — Vestments? Why, you need wear no clothes at
all, if so be you are alone.
LATEK DEVELOPMENT OF ZEN.
Zen was at first a purely personal discipline, non-monastic,
non-ethical, not demanding the acceptance of any Scripture
or any tradition. In modern Japan it has to some extent
regained this character. In China the habit of quoting written
authority was too strong to be easily discarded. The Zen
masters soon began to answer difficult questions by quoting
from the Buddhist Scriptures. Convenience dictated that
practicants of Zen should live in communities and monasticism
was soon established in their sect, as in every other sect of
Buddhism. Questions of conduct arose, and Zen was squared
with the contemporary ethical outlook ; though in medievsl
Japanese literature wicked and cynical persons are generally
depicted as adepts of Zen,
Bodhidharma denied the existence of Good and Evil ; but
it was pointed out by later apologists that the Zen adept,
having viewed the Absolute, is convinced of the unreality and
futility of those pleasures and possessions which are the incen-
tive to sin. The Zen practicant, though he makes no moral
effort, nevertheless is certain not to sin, because he is certain
not to be tempted.
Finally, Zen forged itself a tradition. Probably during
the eleventh century a Scripture^ was fabricated which recounts
how bnce when Buddha was preaching, he plucked a flower
and smiled. Only the disciple Kashyapa understood the
significance of this act. Between him and the Buddha there
passed a wordless communication of Absolute Truths. This
communication was silently passed on by Kashyapa to his
disciple, and so ultimately to Bodhidharma, who brought it
The method of teaching by symbolic acts (such as the
plucking of a flower) was extensively used by the Zen masters.
For example, when a disciple asked Enkwan a question about
(1) Dai Bonten Monbutsu Ketsugi Ky'O.
the nature of Buddha, he answered, " Bring me a clean bowl."
When the priest brought the bowl, the master said, "Now
put it back where you found it." He signified that the priest's
questionings must return to their proper place, the questioner's
heart, from which alone spiritual knowledge can be obtained.
The object of the Zen teachers, as of some eccentric school-
masters whom I have known, seems at first sight to have been
merely to puzzle and surprise their pupils to the highest
possible degree. A peculiar ' ' brusquerie ' ' was developed in
Zen monasteries. The literature of the sect consists chiefly
in an endless series of anecdotes recording the minutest
happenings in the lives of famous Zen monks and their
(apparently) most trivial sayings. But behind these trifling
acts and sayings a deep meaning lay hid. The interpretation
of such teaching depends on a complete knowledge of the
sy m bo li sm used. I am not inclined to agree with those
stuaentsof Zen who assert that its written teaching are
wholly devoid of intellectual content or so completely esoteric
as not to admit of explanation in words. Like other Buddhist
philosophers the Zen masters were chiefly concerned with the
attempt to define the relation between the One and the Many, |
between the subjective and objective aspects of life.
The idealism of Zen does not mean that the phenomenal
world has no importance. To those who have not reached
complete self-realisation the urgencies of that world remain
paramount and are the only stepping-stones upon which he
can climb higher.
On the day of his arrival at the monastery a novice pre-
sented himself before the abbot, begging to be allowed to begin
his spiritual exercises without further delay. " Have you had
supper?" asked the abbot. "Yes." "Then go and wash
THE ZEN MASTEKS. }^ n K^
Let us begin with Eno, a master of the seventh century. He
lost his parents when he was young and earned his living by
gathering firewood. One day when he was in the market-
place he heard some one reading the Diamond Sutra.^ He
(1) Translated by W. Gemmell, 1912. Its uss by Konin shows that Zen
did not long avoid the use of scriptures.
asked where such books were to be had and was told ' ' From
Master Konin on the Yellow Plum-blossom Hill." Accord-
ingly he went to Konin 's Monastery in Anhui and presented
himself before the Master. "Where do you come from?"
"From the South." "Bah! In the South they have not
Buddha in their souls." "North and South," replied Eno,
" are human distinctions that Buddha knows nothing of."
Konin accepted him as a lay-brother and put him to pound
rice in the bakery.
Konin was growing old and wished to choose his successor.
He therefore instituted a poetical competition in which each
monk was to epitomise in a quatrain the essence of Zen. The
favourite candidate was the warden Shinshu, who sent in the
following verses :
The body is the trunk of the Bodhi-tree;
The mind is the bright mirror' s stand ;
Scrub your mirror continually,
Lest the dust eclipse its brightness.
Eno, as a lay-brother, was not qualified to compete. Some
one told him of Shinshu's quatrain. " Mine would be very
different," he exclaimed, and persuaded one of the boys em-
ployed in the bakery to go stealthily by night and inscribe the
following poem on the monastery-wall :
Knowledge is not a tree;
The Mirror has no stand;
Since nothing exists.
How could dust rise and cover it?
The authorship of the poem was discovered and the abbot
Konin visited Eno in the bakery. ' ' Is your rice white or
no? " he asked. " White? " answered Eno ; " it has not yet
been sifted." Thereupon the abbot struck three times on the
rice-mortar with his staff and departed. Eno understood his
meaning. That night at the third watch he came to Konin's
cell and was invested with the abbot's mantle, thereby becom-
ing the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen Church. He died in 712 a.d.,
without having learned how to read or write.
The warden Shinshu had lost the Patriarchate and with it
the spiritual headship of Zen. But as a compensation Fate
had in store for him worldly triumphs of the most dazzling
I'ind. Leaving the rural monastery of Konin, he entered the
Temple of the Jade fountain in the great city of Kingchau.
His fame soon spread over central China. He was a man of
"huge stature, bushy eyebrows and shapely ears." The
Empress Wu Hou, who had usurped the throne of China,
notoriously cultivated the society of handsome priests. About
684 A.D. she summoned him to the Capital. Instead of com-
manding his presence at Court she came in a litter to his lodgings
and actually knelt down before him. The friendship of this
murderous and fiendishly cruel woman procured for him
temporal dignities which in the eyes of the world completely
outshone the rustic piety of the Sixth Patriarch. Shinshu at
the Capital became as it were the Temporal Father of Zen,
while Eno at his country monastery remained its spiritual
pope. The successors of Eno became known as the Fathers
of the Southern School ; while the courtly and social Zen of
Shinshu is called Zen of the North.
Was it in sincere goodwill or with the desire to discredit
'.lis rival that Shinshu invited Eno to join him at the Capital?
In any case Eno had the good sense to refuse. " I am a man
of low stature and humble appearance," he replied; "I fear
that the men of the North would despise me and my doctrines "
— thus hinting (with just that touch of malice which so often
spices the unworldly) that Shinshu's pre-eminence in the
North was due to outward rather than to spiritual graces.
Shinshu died in 706, outliving his august patroness by a
year. To perpetuate his name a palace was turned into a
memorial monastery ; the Emperor's brother wrote his
epitaph ; his obsequies were celebrated with stupendous pomp.
His successor, Fujaku, at first remained at the Kingchau
monastery where he had been Shinshu's pupil. But in 724 the
irresolute Emperor Ming-huang, who had proscribed Buddhism
ten years before, summoned Fujaku to the Imperial City.
Here princes and grandees vied with one another in doing him
honour. "The secret of his success," says the historian,^
' * was that he seldom spoke and generally looked cross. Hence
his rare words and occasional smiles acquired in the eyes of his
(1) Old T'ang History, 191.
admirers an unmerited value." He died at the age of 89. On
the day of his interment the great streets of Ch'ang-an were
empty. The whole city had joined in the funeral procession.
The Governor of Honan (one of the greatest functionaries in
the State), together with his wife and children, all of them
clad in monastic vestments, followed the bier, mingling with
the promiscuous crowd of his admirers and disciples.
Eeligion was at that time fashionable in the high society
of Ch'ang-an, as it is to-day in the great Catholic capitals of
Munich, Vienna or Seville. When I read of Fujaku's. burial
another scene at once sprang into my mind, the funeral of a
great Bavarian dignitary, where I saw the noblemen of Munich
walk hooded and barefoot through the streets.
I shall not refer again to the Northern School of Zen.
One wonders whether the founders of religions are forced by
fate to watch the posthumous development of their creeds. If
so, theirs must be the very blackest pit of Hell.
Let us return to the Southern School, always regarded as
the true repository of Zen tradition.
Obaku lived at the beginning of the ninth century, and was
thus a contemporary of the poet Po Chii-i. He enjoyed the
patronage of a distinguished statesman the Chancellor Hai
Kyti, of whom the Emperor said, ' ' This is indeed a true Con-
fucian." It is to the Chancellor that we owe the record of
Obaku's conversations, which he wrote down day by day. I
will make a few extracts from this diary :
Hai Kyu. — Eno could not read or write. How came it that
he succeeded to the Patriarchate of Konin? The
warden Shinshu was in control of 500 monks, gave
lectures, and could discourse upon thirty-two
different Sutras and Shastras. It was certainly
very strange that he was not made Patriarch.
Obaku (replying). — Shinshti's conception of Thought was
too material. His proofs and practices were too
' ' The master told me that when he was studying with
Enkwan, the Emperor Tai Chung came dressed as a monk.
The master happened to be in the chapel prostrating himself
before an image of Buddha. The Emperor, who thought he
had learnt the lesson of Zen idealism, said to him : ' There
is nothing to be got from Buddha, nothing from the Church,
nothing from Man ; for nothing exists. What do you mean
by praying at your age? '
' ' Obaku answered him : ' I seek nothing of Buddha, the
Church, or of Man. I am in the habit of praying.' The
Emperor said : ' What do you do it for? ' Obaku lost
patience and struck him with his fist. ' You rude fellow,'
cried the Emperor. ' Since nothing exists, what difference
does it make to you whether I am rude or polite? ' and
Obaku struck him again. The Emperor retreated hastily."
In his old age Obaku visited his native village and stayed
a year in his mother's house, without revealing his identity.
After he had set out again for his monastery, his mother sud-
denly realised that he was her son and went in pursuit of him.
■She reached the shore ;of a certain river, only to see him disem-
barking on the other side. Thereupon she lost her reason and
flung herself into the water.
Obaku threw a lighted torch after her and recited the follow-
ing verses :
May the wide river dry at its source, to its very bed
If here the crime of matricide has been done;
When one son becomes a priest, the whole family is born again
If that is a lie, all that Buddha promised is a lie.
Henceforward the throwing of a lighted torch into the bier
became part of the Zen funeral ceremony ; it was accompanied
by the reciting of the above verses. Probably formula, ritual, <
and story alike belong to a period much more ancient than
In the seventeenth century a Chinese priest named Ingen-^
carried the teaching of Obaku to Japan, where it now possesses
nearly 700 temples.
(1) 1592-1673 A.D.
Baso was a master of the ninth century. One day he was
sitting with his feet across the garden-path. A monk came
along with a wheel-barrow. "Tuck in your feet," said the
monk. "What has been extended cannot be retracted,"
answered Baso. " What has been started cannot be stopped,"
cried the monk and pushed the barrow over Base's feet. The
master hobbled to the monastery and seizing an axe called out
" Have any of you seen the rascal who hurt my feet? " The
monk who had pushed the barrow then came out and stood
"with craned head." The master laid down his axe.
To understand this story we must realise that the wheel-
])arrow is here a symbol of the Wheel of Life and Death, which,
though every spoke of it is illusion, cannot be disregarded till
we have destroyed the last seed of phenomenal perception in us.
• Obaku, as we have seen, taught wisdom with his fists.
When the novice Rinzai came to him and asked him what
was the fundamental idea of Buddhism, Obaku hit him three
times with his stick. Rinzai fled and presently met the monk
Daigu: Where do you come from?
Rinzai: From Obaku.
Daigu: And what stanza did he lecture upon?
Rinzai: I asked him thrice what was the fundamental
doctrine of Buddhism and each time he hit me with
his stick. Please tell me if I did something I
ought not to have done?
Daigu : You go tt> Obaku and torture him by your questions,
and then ask if you have done wrong !
At that moment Rinzai had a Great Enlightenment.
Rinzai substituted howling for Obaku 's manual violence.
He shouted meaningless syllables at his disciples ; roared like
a lion or bellowed like a bull. This "howling" became a
regular part of Zen practice, and may be compared to the yell-
ing of the American Shakers. Upon his deathbed Rinzai sum-
moned his disciples round him and asked which of them felt
capable of carrying on his work. Sansho volunteered to do so.
"How will you tell people what was Einzai's teaching? " asked
Kinzai. Sansho threw out his chest and roared in a manner
which he thought would gratify the master. But Kinzai
groaned and cried out, ' ' To think that such a blind donkey
should undertake to hand on my teaching ! ' '
It was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that Zen
most completely permeated Chinese thought. Upon the in«
vasion of the Mon^ols^ many Zen monks from Eastern China
too^ refuge in Japan ; the same thing happened during the
Manchu invasion in the seventeenth century. But by that time
Zen had a serious philosophic rival.
In the fifteenth century the philosopher Wang Yang-ming
began to propagate a doctrine which, in all but names, strongly
resembled the philosophic side of Zen. He taught that in each
one of us is a " higher nature," something which, borrowing a
phrase from Mencius, he called " Good Knowledge." Of this
inner nature he speaks in exactly the same terms as the Zen
teachers spoke of their "Buddha immanent in man's heart."
He even uses the same kind of doggerel-verse as a medium of
Eigid Confucianists, who would not have listened to any
doctrine of professedly Buddhist origin, were able through
Wang Yang-ming 's tact to accept the philosophy of Zen with-
out feeling that they were betraying the Confucian tradition.
The followers of Yang-ming are to-day very numerous both, in
China and Japan. They cultivate introspection, but not the
complete self-hypnosis of Zen.
In China, where Zen is almost forgotten, the followers of
this later doctrine are not even aware of its derivation.
ZEN AND AET.
I said at the beginning of this paper that Zen is often
mentioned by writers on Far Eastern Art. The connection
between 2en and art is important, not only because of the
inspiration which Zen gave to the artist, but also because
through Zen was obtained a better understanding of the psycho-
(1) On the_attitude j>f the Mongol rulers to Zen, see an article by Prof.
Kunishita, Toyogakuho, xi., 4, 87.
logical conditions under which art is produced than has pre-
vailed in any other civilisation.
y^ Art was regarded as a kind of Zen, as a delving down into
the Buddha that each of us unknowingly carries within him,
as Benjamin carried Joseph's cup in his sack. Through Zen
we annihilate Time and see the Universe not split up into
myriad fragments, but in its primal unity. Unless, says the
Zen sBsthetician, the artist's work is imbued with this vision
of the subjective, non-phenomenal aspect of life, his produc-
tions will be mere toys.
I do not mean to suggest that Chinese artists found in Zen
"V a short cut to the production of beauty. Zen aims at the
"^ annihilation of consciousness, whereas art is produced by an
i interaction of conscious and unconscious faculties. How far
such an interaction can be promoted by the psychic discipline
of Zen no layman can judge ; moreover the whole question of
\ the artist's psychology is controversial and obscure.
Perhaps it is not even very important that the artist himself
should have a sound aesthetic ; but it is of the utmost import-
ance to the artist that the public should have some notion of
the conditions under which art can be produced — should have
some key to the vagaries of a section of humanity which will
in any case always be found troublesome and irritating.
Such a key Zen supplied, and it is in the language of Zen
that, after the twelfth century, art is usually discu'ssed in
c^.China and Japan.
THE KOKUTSUJI SCHOOL.
One institution, about which till recently very little was
known, seems to have been an important factor in the propa-
gation of Zen art and ideas. About 1215 a.d. a Zen priest
came from the far south-west of China to Hangchow, the
Capital, and there refounded a ruined monastery, the Eokutsuji,
which stood on the shores of the famous Western Lake. His
name was Mokkei. He seems to have been the first to practise c
the swift, ecstatic type of monochrome which is associated
with Zen. In hurried swirls of ink he sought to record before
they faded visions and exaltations produced whether by the
frenzy of wine, the stupor of tea, or the vacancy of absorption. _>
■6- .Sometimes his design is tangled and chaotic ; sometimes as
in his famous "Persimmons,"^ passion has congealed into a
stupendous calm. X,
Of his fellow-workers the best known is Easo, a painter of
birds and flowers. Ryokai, once a fashionable painter, left the
Court and with his pupil Rikaku worked in the manner of
Examples of Ryokai' s work before and after his conversion
are still preserved in Japan.
Finally, about the middle of the fourteenth century, a
Japanese priest came to China and, under cireumetances which
I shall describe in an appendix, confusingly became Mokkei II.
It may be that it was he who sent back to his own country
some of the numerous pictures signed Mokkei which are now
in Japan. Which of them are by Mokkei and which by
Mokuan is a problem which remains to be solved.
This Zen art did not flourish long in China, nor in all proba- '
bility do many specimens of it survive there. But in Japan
it was a principal source of inspiration to the great painters
of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Sesshu himself is
the direct descendant of Mokkei;- as in a decadent- w^fy- are . j
Kano masters such as Tsunenobu. (->S^
Zen paintings are of two kinds. (1) Representations of
animals, birds and flowers, in which the artist attempted to
identify himself with the object depicted, to externise its inner
Buddha. These were achieved not by study from the life, as
the early Sung nature-pieces have been, but by intense and
concentrated visualisation of the subject to be painted. This
mental picture was rapidly transferred to paper before the spell
of concentration (samadhi) was broken. (2} Illustrations of
episodes in the lives of the great Zen teachers. This branch
of Zen art was essentially dramatic. It sought to express the
characters of the persons involved, subtly to reveal the
grandeur of soul that lay hidden behind apparent uncouthness
or stupidity. Typical of this kind of painting are the pictures
of " Tanka burning the Image."
One night Tanka, a Zen priest, stayed as a guest at an ordi-
nary Buddhist monastery. There was no firewood in his cell.
(1) See Kiimmel, Die Kunst Ostasiens PL ii8.
As the night was cold he went into the chapel, seized a wooden
statue of Shakyamuni and, chopping it up, made himself a
comfortable fire. To him the idol of Buddha was a mere block
of wood; his indignant hosts took a different view. The
controversy is the same as that which occupies the central
place in the No play Sotoha Komachi.
There is ahoT£er aspect of Zen which had an equally
hnportant effect on art. The Buddha-nature is immanent not
in Man only, but in everything that exists, animate of inani-'
mat^. Stone, river and tree are alike parts of the great hidden
UnJ^. Thus Man, througT^bis Buddha-nature or universalised
consciousness, possesses an intimate means of contact with
Nature. The songs of birds, the noise of waterfalls, the rolling
of thunder, the whispering of wind in the, .pi%e-tjcees— all these
are utterances of the Absolute.
Hence the connection of Zen with the passionate love p|.
Nature which is so evident in Far Easterh poetry and aft.
Personally I believe that this passion for Nature worked
more favourably on literature than on painting. The typical
Zen picture, dashed off in a moment of exaltation — perhaps a
moonlit river expressed in three blurs and a flourish — belongs
rather to the art of calligraphy than to that of painting, -j.
In his more elaborate depictions of nature the Zen artist
is led by his love of nature into that common pitfall of lovers —
sentimentality. The forms of Nature tend with him to
. function not as forms but as symbols.
Something iresembling the mystic belief which Zen
embraces is found in many countries and under many names.
But Zen differs from other religions of the same kind in that
it admits only one means by which the perception of Truth
can be attained. Prayer, fasting, asceticism — all are dismissed
as useless, giving place to one single resource, the method of
self-hypnosis which I have here described.
I have, indeed, omitted any mention of an important
adjunct of Zen, namely tea-drinking, which was as constant a
feature in the life of Zen monasteries as it is here in the regime
of charwomen and girl-clerks. I have not space to describe
■the various tea-ceremonies. The tendency of monasteries was
i;o create in them as in every part of daily life a more and more
elaborate ritual, calculated to give some pattern to days other-
wise devoid of any incident. We possess minute descriptions
of every ceremony — the initiation of novices, the celebration of
birth and death anniversaries of the Patriarchs, the procedure
in cases of sickness, madness, disobedience, disappearance or
death of monks ; the selection and investiture of abbots ; the
lectures, liturgies and sessions which constituted the curricu-
lum of Zen instruction.
In China decay set in after the fifteenth century. The Zen
monasteries became almost indistinguishable from those of
popular, idolatrous Buddhism. In jTapan, on the other hand,
Zen has remained, absolutely distinct and.is now the favourite^
creed of the educated classes. It has not hitherto conducted^
a'ny propaganda in Europe, whereas the Amida Sect has sent
out both missionaries and pamphlets. But I believe that
Zen would find many converts in England. Something rather
near it we already possess. Quakerism, like Zen, is a non-
dogmatic religion, laying stress on the doctrine of Immanence.
But whereas the Quakers seek communion with the Divine
Spark in corporate meditation and deliberately exploit the
mysterious potencies of crowd-psychology^the Zen adept
probes in solitude (or at least without reference to his neigh-
hour) for the Buddha within him.
In cases where a Quaker meeting passes in silence, the
members having meditated quietly for a whole hour, a very
near approach to a Zen gathering has been made. But more
often than not the Holy Spirit, choosing his mouthpiece with
an apparent lack of discrimination, quickly descends upon some
member of the meeting. The ineffable, which Zen wisely
refused to express, is then drowned in a torrent of pedestrian
Some, then, may turn to Zen as a purer Quakerism. Others
will be attracted to it by the resemblance of its doctrines to the
hypotheses of recent psychology. The Buddha consciousness
of Zen exactly corresponds to the Universal Consciousness
^ which, according to certain modern investigators, lies hid
beneath the personal Consciousness. Such converts will prob-
ably use a kind of applied Zen, much as the Japanese have
done ; that is to say, they will not seek to spend their days in
complete Samadhi, but will dive occasionally, for rest or
encouragement, into the deeper recesses of the soul.
It is not likely that they will rest content with the tradi-
tional Eastern methods of self-hypnosis, (if certain states of
consciousness are indeed more valuable than those with which
we are familiar in ordinary life — then we must seek them
unflinchingly by whatever means we can devise. I can
imagine a kind of dentist's chair fitted with revolving mirrors,
flashing lights, sulphurous haloes expanding and contracting —
in short a mechanism that by the pressure of a single knob
should whirl a dustman into Nirvana. ,
Whether such states of mind are actually more valuable
than our ordinary consciousness is dijQ&cult to determine.
Certainly no one has much right to an opinion who has not
experienced them. But something akin to Samadhi — a
sudden feeling of contact with a unity more real than the
apparent complexity of things — is probably not an uncommon
experience. The athlete, the creative artist, the lover, the
philosopher — all, I fancy, get a share of it, not when seeking
to escape from the visible world ; but rather just when that
world was seeming to them most sublimely real.
To seek by contemplation of the navel or of the tip of the
nose a repetition of spiritual experiences such as these seems
to us inane ; and indeed the negative trance of Zen is very
different from the positive ecstasies to which I have just
referred. I say that it is different ; but how do I know"
" Zen," said Bodhidharma, " cannot be described in words nor
chronicled in books " ; and I have no other experience of Zen.
If I knew, 1 might transmit to you my knowledge, but it would
have to be by a direct spiritual communication, symbolised
only by a smile, a gesture, or the plucking of a flower. '
r-^ need not therefore apologise for having given a purely
external and historical account off Zen, a creed whose inner
i mysteries are admittedly beyond the scope of words. ?
Eeproductions of Zen Paintings in Japanese art publica-
tions. (The Kokka and the other publications here referred
to may be seen at the Art Library, Victoria and Albert
Museum ; and at the Print Koom of the British Museum.)
MOKKBL— Kokka. 37, 112, 122, 177, 185, 238, 242, 265, 268,
291, 293, 314.
'RASO.—Shimbi Taikwan XX.
MOKUAN.— (Mokkei 11).— Kokka 295, Shimhi Taikwan Vol.
IX. (Nos. 21 and 22 in the collection of Chinese
Paintings at the British Museum are probably by
BYOKAl.— Kokka 40, 114, 145, 152, 220, 227, 229.
BIKAKU.— Kokka 269.
MUJUN. — (An important thirteenth century Zen writer.)
INDEA. — (A Hangchow priest, presumably an Indian ;
flourished c. 1280.) Kokka 35, ilO, 223, 310.
Shimhi Taikwan IX.
The Nikkoshu^, a diary by the priest Gido, has the following
entry under the year 1378 (month and day uncertain) :
To-day Donfu^ came, and we fell to talking of Mokuan.
It seems that he was once known as Ze-itsu. But on becom-
ing a pupil of the priest Kenzan'^, he changed his name to
Mokuan. Afterwards he went to China and entered the
Honkakuji^, where he became the disciple of Eyo-an^ and
was made librarian. Here he published at his own expense
(lit. "selling his shoes") the Second Collection of Sayings
Subsequently he lived at the Shotenji at Soochow, and
was warden there under Nanso^, dying soon afterwards.
When he first came to China he spent some time at the
Joji Monastery at Hangchow and from there visited the
Rokutsuji on the shores of the Western Lake. This
monastery was inhabited by the followers of Mokkei. The
abbot greeted Mokuan with a smile, saying to him : ' ' Last
night I dreamt that our founder Mokkei came back again.
You must be his reincarnation ' ' ; and he gave to Mokuan
Mokkei 's two seals, white and red. Henceforward he was
known as Mokkei the Second.
(1) See my No Plays of Jafan (Allen & Unwin, 1921), p. 19. The passage
here translated is taken not from the current, two-chapter abridgement of
Gido's Diary, but from the Kokuchoshu, a miscellany by the 15th century
priest Zuikei, wh^ quoted many passages from the lost portion of the Diary.
See Mr. Saga Toshu, Shina Gaku, I., i.
(3) Died 1323. Both he and Donfu were Japanese priests who visited
(4) At Chia-hsing in Chehkiang,
(5) Entered this temple in 1334.
(6) Visited Japan; was at the Shotenji from 1342-1345.
Eeproductions of paintings illustrating Zen legend.
(1) With tightly closed lips, as he appeared before the
Emperor of China in 520. Masterpieces of Sesshu,
(2) Crossing the Yangtze on a reed.
Perhaps the best example may be seen not in a repro-
duction, but in No. 22 of the original Chinese Paintings
at the British Museum.
(3) Sitting with his face to the wall. He sat thus in
silence for nine years in the Shorin Monastery on
Mount Sung. Kokka 333.
Second Patriarch of the sect. Severed his own arm and
presented it to Bodhidharma. In spite of his fanati-
cism (or because of it) the Founder did not at first regard
him with complete confidence and recommended to
him the study of the Langkavatara Sutra, not con-
sidering him ripe for complete, non-dogmatic Zen.
Eka waiting waist-deep in the snow for the Founder
to instruct him. Masterpieces of Sesshu, PI. 45.
Sixth Patriarch. See above, p 15.
Kokka, 289, 297.
TOKUSAN, died 865 a.d.
Shimhi Taikwan, I, 13, shows him with his famous
Zen stick. He is also sometimes depicted failing to
answer an old market-woman's riddle ; and tearing up
his commentary on the Diamond Siitra.
A painting by Indra (Kokka 173) shows him burning
the wooden statue of Buddha at the Erin Temple.
The only writer who has made extracts from the works
of Bodhidharma is Pere Wieger, whose remarks (in his
Histoire des Croyances religieuses en Chine, pp. 517-528) show
a robust and likeable bigotry.
Of Zen literature he says: " Nombre d'in-folio remplis de
reponses incoherentes, insensees. . . . Ce ne sont pas, comme
on I'a suppose, des allusions a des affaires interieures, qu'il
faudrait connaitre pour pouvoir comprendre. Ce sont des
exclamations echappees a des abrutis, momentanement
tires de leur coma."
For the tea-ceremony in Japan see Okakura's Book of Tea
(Foulis, 1919). The "military" Zen of Japan is well
described by Nukariya Kaiten in his The Religion of the
Most of this paper is derived from the section on Zen-
(Series II, Vol. 15, seq.) in the " Supplement to the Collec-
tion of Buddhist Scriptures," Dat Nihon Zoku Zo Kyo.
Much of the information with regard to the Eokutsuji
School is taken from the article by Mr. Saga to which I have
already referred. For the Eokutsuji ( ' ' Temple of the Six
Penetrations") see Hsien Shun Lin-an Chih ("Topography
of Hangchow, 1265-1275 a.d."), ch. 78, f. 9 recto.
I have also used Yamada's Zenshu Jiten (Dictionary of
Zen) and the Hekiganroku, edited by Soyen, 1920.
(Chinese pronunciations given in brackets.)
Baso (Ma Tsu). 20.
Bodhidharma (Ta-mo). S seq., 29.
Buddhapriya (Chio-ai). 11.
Dai Bonten Monhutsu-ketsugi Kyo. 14.
Daigu (Ta-yii). 20.
Diamond Sutra. 15.
Dhyana, see Zen. Also 10.
Eka (Hui-k'o). 29.
Enkwan (Yen-kuan). 14.
Eno (Hui-neng). 15, 29.
Fujaku (P'u-chi). 17.
Haikyti (P'ei Hsiu). 18.
Hokkekyo, see Saddharma, etc.
Honkakuji (Pen-chio-ssii). 28.
Joji (Ching-tz'u). 28.
Konin (Hung-jen). 15.
Korin (Ku-lin). 28.
Mahay ana. 7.
Mokkei (Mu-ch'i). 22, 27.
Mujun (Wu-chun). 27.
Nanso (Nan-ch'u). 28.
Obaku (Huang Po) . 18.
Easo (Lo-ch'uang). 23, 27.
Eikaku (Li Ch'iieh). 27.
Einzai (Lin-chi). 20.
Eokutsuji (Liu-t'ung-ssu). 22.
Eyo-an (Liao-an). 28.
Eyokai (Liang K'ai). 23,27.
Saddharma Pnndar'ka Sutra. 8.
Saga T. 28, 30.
Samadhi (San-mei). 12.
Sansho (San-sheng). 21.
Shina Gaku._ 28, 30.
Shinshu (Shen-hsiu). 16.
Shotenji (Ch'eng-t'ien-ssii). 28.
Tanka (Tan-hsia). 23, 29.
Tendai (T'ien-t'ai). 8.
Tokusan (Te-shan). 29.
Wu Hou. 17.
Zen (Ch'an). 7, etc.
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